Koyasan is one of the most important Buddhist temple complexes in Japan. This World Heritage monastic complex of 117 temples is dedicated to the study and practice of esoteric Buddhism : Shingon was introduced to Japan by a monk named Kukai (posthumously known as Kobo Daishi). Kobo Daishi began teaching Shingon Buddhism in Japan in 806 AD, after returning from Tang Dynasty China; ten years later he was granted permission by the Imperial Court to build the remote mountain complex that is present-day Koyasan. The most sacred areas in the temple complex are the Danjo Garan and Okuno-in. Danjo Garan marks the site of the first temple erected by Kobo Daishi. To the east of Danjo Garan is Okuno-in, where Kobo Daishi is said to be in a state of eternal meditation, and where his mausoleum (Kobo Daishi Gobyo) is situated. 52 of the 117 temples in the area accept guests for overnight shukubo stays. Koyasan is a wondrous place to contemplate and seek respite from daily life. 1,200 years of history and natural beauty wait to envelop you in their calming embrace.
From Wakayama City, take the JR Wakayama Line train bound for Nara and alight at Hashimoto. There, change trains to Gokurakubashi, where a cable car will take you the final distance to Koyasan Station—867 m above sea level. Leaving Wakayama at 9:04 a.m. will get you to Koyasan cable car station at 11:07 a.m.
With an average temperature of 11°C, warm dress for the mountain climate is recommended. Mountain areas in Wakayama receive the highest rainfall, so rain gear can come in handy.
Koyasan can also be reached by express service to Gokurakubashi from Osaka's Namba Station. If taking this route, consider purchasing the Nankai Koyasan World Heritage Ticket —a round-trip fare including a 2-day bus pass and money-off coupons for use at Koyasan.
To make Koyasan your first port of call after landing at Kansai International Airport, take advantage of the daily bus service departing at 10:10 a.m. The bus arrives in Koyasan at 11:55 a.m., and bookings can be made online .
Although most sights in Koyasan are within easy walking distance, a convenient bus network is also available. If you plan to rely heavily on buses, make sure to pick up a 1-day pass available at the bus station outside Koyasan Station.
For a personal touch, why not try a guided tour? Contact Koyasan Visitor Information Center to arrange a custom program, or take part in one of their three Wednesday walking tours, held weekly between April and October. The center has irregular opening hours, so check their homepage for details.
1 Koyasan Shukubo Association (Central Office)
Not staying in a shukubo overnight? Have the Shukubo Association book a shojin-ryori lunch for you at one of the temples. Buddhist vegan lunches start from around ¥3,000 per person.
3 Danjo Garan Scared Temple Complex
Combo tickets covering admission to various venues including Konpon Daito are available at Koyasan Shukubo Association Offices for ¥1,500.
A detail that may go unnoticed but good to know, is that a recommended sequential order to visit the temple sites exists, which you may wish to follow.
4 Reihokan Museum
5 Kongobu-ji Head Temple
6 Shukubo Temple Retreat
Certain temples are more geared towards accommodating overseas visitors with multi-lingual signage and monks that speak a second language. It is advisable to check with Koyasan Shukubo Association to find a temple that best meets your needs. Reservations are strongly recommended. Payments are typically cash-only.
7 Okuno-in Night Tour
A special lantern procession through Okuno-in is held each 20th of the month. Organized by the Koyasan Shukubo Association, visitors are loaned lanterns and walk together up to Torodo (Lantern Hall) where a short Buddhist service in Japanese is held. Departing at 7 p.m. from the Ichinohashi Office, reservations are not required and participation is free. The auspicious March 20th ceremony, commemorates the eve of Kobo Daishi's said entrance into a state of eternal meditation.
8 Kobo Daishi Gobyo
With return journeys to Wakayama City and Osaka taking approximately 2 hours, aim to leave Koyasan a little after lunchtime. If you are looking for Koyasan souvenirs, stop in at the gift shops located in town. Items range from hand-crafted goods, regional foods to prayer beads (juzu) and other Buddhist paraphernalia.